[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
This ended up being a very uneventful read for me. The premise felt really cool: a girl finds herself in a creepy orphanage, realises it’s actually a kind of purgatory for murdered kids, and tries to find out who killed her so that she can move on. The beginning was intriguing, especially since, like other ghosts in the orphanage, Echo first has to piece together memories of her death—reliving the trauma at once would be too shocking—, and investigating why you’re in an orphanage when last you knew your parents were definitely alive, well, that’s tricky.
The problem lied mainly in how all this was executed. Not particularly thrilling, for starters. Echo has a couple of culprits in mind, so she and the other kids go to ‘haunt’ them and see if they’re going to wield under pressure, or are actually innocent, but… it wasn’t anything scary or memorable, more like pranks, not like the really creepy kind of haunting you could get when adding children/teenagers to the mix (in general, I find kid ghosts scarier than adult ones). The mystery itself—finding the murdered—wasn’t exciting either, nor were the murderer’s reactions. Perhaps this was partly due to Echo’s power as a ghost: entering living people’s bodies in order to perceive their thoughts. The investigation part, in turn, was more about vaguely picking a maybe-potential culprit, scaring them, popping in their mind, then be gone. Then the story. And then Echo’s past as a ‘bad girl’ was revealed, and it turned out it wasn’t so much bad as introduced without much taste.
Definitely cringeworthy was the drama-addled romance. Echo’s living boyfriend, Andy, is all about moping and wanting to kill himself over her death, and… well, call me hard-hearted and callous, but you’re 16 and that kind of relationship is by far NOT the first one you’re going to experience in life, so pegging everything on it always feels contrived to me. Then there’s cute ghost boy Cole, who’s not about murdering the hypotenuse (thanks goodness), yet was strange, considering Andy is not aware of his presence, and so the triangle is… incomplete? (Its attempts at becoming a square later didn’t help either.) Also contains examples of stupid Twue Wuv/The One/soulmate 4evah/Doormat Extraordinaire. Such as Echo being so happy that her corpse was dressed in her favourite dress at her funeral… Favourite because her boyfriend Andy liked it. I still have no idea if Echo herself liked the pattern or colour or whatever. In any case, these are the kind of tropes I dislike in novels in general, and in YA even more. Why always make it look like couple love is the ultimate end, as if nobody (whether girl or boy) couldn’t have a good life in different ways?
In fact, I was more interested in the orphanage’s headmistress (whose back story plays a part for a chapter or so) and other inmates, all with their own murders to solve. These I would’ve liked to see interact more than just as Echo’s sidekicks. But we don’t get to learn much about them, apart from how they died. Too bad.
[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
3.5/4 stars; I liked quite a few of these short stories, none of them made me roll my eyes, and to be fair, the essays at the end of the book were also quite interesting.
* “Single, Singularity”: While it doesn’t really invert the trope it’s based on, I’m a sucker for AI stories, and this one was both thrilling, and chilling in its ending.
* “Seeking Truth”: The ‘blind psychic’ trope, subverted in that here, the blind person is extremely skilled at reading other people, no need for special powers for that.
* “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place?”: A mix of Sesame Stree-like TV shows and jaded ex-super soldiers trying to go home. Very nostalgic, perhaps a wee bit long, but a good read nonetheless.
* “Chosen”: A comic twist on ‘the Chosen’, with jabs at tropes like the gun-toting weapons maniac, the Buffy-like teenager fighting demons, and pedantic occultist scholar. This one was really fun.
* “The White Dragon”: A different take on the ‘yellow peril’, in a 1920s San Francisco (also, I liked revisiting that city in such a light, now that I’ve finally been able to actually travel there).
* “Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone”: The Witch and the Damsel In Distress, poised against each other, each with their wiles and strengths, and with the story playing on the trope of men rescuing the Damsel... only they’re not the right people to do the job.
* “Burning Bright”: I really liked the main character here, just the right mix of slightly hinged and yet fairly grounded at the same time.
* “Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint)”: This story plays well on both the Santa Claus/Christmas and ‘old soldier goes back to war’ tropes.
* “The First Blood of Poppy Dupree”: At first I thought this would be about werewolves, and it turned out it was something else, which I liked.
* “Until There is Only Hunger”: A strong story, with a definite end-of-the-world feeling, dwindling hope mixed with growing despair, and characters trying to find whatever comfort they can, although this rings more and more hollow. Bonus point for characters not being typical cis/hetero/white.
* “Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini”: I suspected where this one was going, but I liked it, and it made me laugh.
* “The Tangled Web”: Love at first sight and romance woes... but not among humans, which lent a different dimension to this story.
The essays: definitely read those. They deal with the Hero’s Journey, its limitations, the Heroine’s Journey, its limitations as well, and push further, when it comes to trans and gay/lesbian heroes, which is really needed. Because let’s be honest: it’s already difficult to find a good story where a woman is not reduced to accomplishment = family/motherhood/taking care of others, but it’s even worse when you’re non-binary.
It's hard for me to review this book properly right now, because even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, it ends with a lot of unanswered questions AND a tentative HFN.
I need to know what direction the sequel will take first (and there better be a sequel!), before I finally make up my mind.
Because one of my most loathed pet peeves reared its ugly head at the end:
a fucking love triangle
So it could go either way at this point.